Saturday, June 2, 2012

Learning from the Sharks

The other night I went to a business school event aimed at entrepreneurs from SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) seeking to grow their businesses.  It was, if I am honest, a bit of a wake-up.  These boys (and they were nearly all boys) were hungry hunters.   Their focus both impressed me and left me feeling a bit wet in comparison.  Had I had the balls to mention 'blended return' or, worse, giving away part of my company to my staff, a hundred dead eyes would have turned on me in contemptuous disdain.   'No distractions' was the mantra coming from the front.   Don't waste time on multiple goals or equity carving - it will just distract you from the big prize.

The message was clear:  if you don't have one big goal and focus exclusively on it, you are fucked as a business.  Period.  Social enterprise would, had I mentioned it, be viewed as water-muddying.   Focus on profit, they would say, and give some away after if you feel guilty about it.

Interestingly, I was contacted this week by the group of Social Enterprise Ambassadors (remember them) of which I was one.   A reunion is being mooted.   The contrast between this group of likeable, driven and diverse people and the straight-faced biz-types could not be greater.   And I could not be in any doubt about where I would fit in with most or have the better evening with.   However, from a pure learning perspective, I suspect the biz people would at least match or even best my pals from social enterprise.  

I guess you learn most from people who are different from you.  When in the wacky world of social enterprise I see myself at the 'business' end of the equation.  I make money, I try to do good as I am doing it.  I don't like hippy-shit (to borrow Tim Smit's phrase) and I don't see Social Enterprise as Socialism-By-Other-Means.   I sit at the other end of the scale from the very good people running Community Shops, micro-enterprise units for recovering crack addicts or any of the stuff that has business as part of it - but isn't really business.  

However, put in a room where the testosterone is peeling off the wallpaper and competition oozes from a million pores, I feel very much at the softer end of business.  Here people tell me to take my 'dogs out and shoot them' if they (referring to my employees) are not delivering value to the business.  And never, ever, give the company away - just pay people bonuses - ownership is everything etc.   OK, that's as extreme as it got, and people mean well and, to be honest, not all of them were as bright as they thought they were, but, heck, my evening with the biz-guys contained as much learning as half a year of soc ent events put together.